A small event distantly related to your business can have a huge impact on your reputation. This is the “butterfly effect,” named after the possibility that a butterfly flapping its wings in Belize can generate a tornado in Texas. Here are three events relating to advisors hiring lead-generation firms, each of which launch a butterfly effect on their reputation:

Case No. 1: A direct-mail firm suggests the end is near for Social Security in a mailer to the senior market. Butterfly effect: The consumer is a retired professor of health care finance. He knows the postcard is fraudulent but agrees to an appointment to confront the advisor. He also reports the person to the state insurance department, which issues sanctions. The action is posted to the department’s website, picked up by local media and sent aloft by Google … forever.

Case No. 2: A vendor telemarkets to non-English speakers. Consumers say yes just to get the telemarketer off the phone. Butterfly effect: The agent arrives at the appointment to find an elderly non-English speaking woman with early-stage dementia. The woman becomes anxious about the unknown visitor and calls her son, who summons the police. The police arrive to investigate, and the agent’s name gets mentioned at the station, triggering a damaging rumor in his close-knit community.

Case No. 3: An Internet quote sells leads generated by another lead firm. Butterfly effect: The first lead firm collects confidential information from the consumer and sends the lead to a second firm, which sells the lead to the advisor. Now the advisor’s sale is potentially non-compliant because he got the lead from a firm that wasn’t technically authorized to have the client’s personal information. Is a lawsuit in the offing?

In short, be protective of your fragile business reputation. Yes, with the right products and sales skills, it’s not hard to fly high. But one flap of a butterfly’s wings can bring you down fast.

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Steven McCarty is executive director for the National Ethics Bureau.